Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (10) - Qualifications, the UNCRC and 'a world defined by systems of knowledge'.

We've nearly finished working through the [uncorrected] transcript of the Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf], thank goodness, because I'm finding it very tedious now and would prefer to be blogging about other things! Ah well: this might be the last stretch of this section.

(Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

In my previous post, we'd just covered the part in which the minister was discussing how many sides of A4 we'd be required to present to our LAs by way of 'curriculum', or whatever they're planning to call it. Graham Badman spoke on this next:

Graham Badman: I'm delighted to say it won't be me doing this.

Doing what? I need to scroll back up the transcript again to find out. Ah, it was David Chaytor's question about the proposal for a statement of intended learning, how detailed that's going to be and who is going to draw it up.

We shall leave the space on Facebook for somebody else, which is a blessed relief,

The poor lamb! Sends our beloved autonomous learning into oblivion - and suffers a backlash! Shocking.

but against the background of the demands of 21st-century society,

Nasty modern people, with their new-fangled communication methods.. Oh wait. I'm chair of Becta. Um.. it should all be restricted!

I go back to the UN convention, because the UN convention actually doesn't specify just the right to education; it specifies the right to take part in society and to have that requisite level of qualifications.

WHAT?? The UNCRC specifies a certain required level of qualifications?? Where? I'm running a search through it for the word 'qualifications' and I'm finding.. nothing. I even pasted the whole thing into a Word document and searched there, in case the online version missed it. Still nothing. But I'll look in more detail, in case it's phrased differently. In fact, I'll read the whole thing through (again).

Oh, I like clause 1 of article 13!:

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

And article 14:

1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

But the articles with particular relevance to education are numbered 28 and 29:

Article 28

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;

(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;

(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;

(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.

3. States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

Article 29

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Do you see anything about qualifications in there? I don't, and I've just read the rest of the UNCRC - including parts II and III, and I see nothing there either.

Back to Mr Badman, then:

Although I understand why autonomous educators believe it would be difficult to outline that,

Outline what? "That requisite level of qualifications"? I don't know what he means. It is difficult for us to outline in advance our children's definite path through life, but that's no more difficult for us than it is for any other parents, or teachers, or experts. Perhaps we're just more honest about it.

equally I cannot conceive of a situation where, for example, a child of middle secondary years does not know something about oriental history, given the world as it is now;

Given the world as it is now; being a welcome addition to what was otherwise largely irrelevant. Who decides on the body of knowledge that should be imparted to all young people, even assuming they could all be persuaded to open the tops of their heads and allow such a body to be inserted without obstacle? Who should decide? Nobody, because that traditional, dictatorial brand of pedagogy belongs in the past, Victorian age where it was developed and practiced to serve the interests of the ruling classes alone. People nowadays have access to a much wider sphere of information than a predetermined curriculum can provide. Their options are wide open; they learn best when they're entirely free to follow their interests and develop expertise entirely according to their age, aptitude, ability and any special educational needs they may have. Isn't Becta and 21st Century schooling supposed to be all about that? I'm finding Mr Badman's true position in these matters increasingly difficult to ascertain, possibly due to the bewildering array of conflicts of interests he seems to so cheerfully inhabit.

does not know something about carbon sequestration, if they are interested in science;

If they are interested in that certain branch of science, I think it's likely that most home educated children of a certain age probably will know something about carbon sequestration, even if they might not know it as that. (Are we to be tested on this later? Panic! It's like being on University Challenge, isn't it?) And yet, amazingly, some people still do rate intelligence and its applicability according to which random bunch of facts from the entirety of human knowledge of which a person might seem to have understanding. The fact that its the diversity of our species rather than its conformity which has ensured our collective survival for so long seems to escape them.

and does not know something about the nature of the economy.

Everyone knows something about the nature of the economy. But, let me guess, that knowledge only counts if it happens to be the same 'something' as Graham Badman knows.

So, even if you go to the broadest spectrum of what constitutes a curriculum and an entitlement, it would not be difficult to get beyond that definition.

Beyond what definition? Is it just me, or does anyone else struggle to follow his exact meaning in this session?

I think it's intriguing that the Royal Society of Arts has defined a curriculum in about two pages. I actually tried it on home educators and said, "Well, have a look at this." They in the main rejected that as well, but there have to be some broad - brushstroke elements to what is reasonable in a statement that, as I've said in the report, gives the child choices. If you don't know about something, how can you make a choice?

Oh - weary sigh. Our children do learn about things - it's just that we don't dictate in advance for them what these things will be. They choose and then find them out for themselves, so we can't know in advance what they are, or might be. It's not a complicated concept to grasp, is it?

Going back to "Elective Home Education", I cite at the end the court judgment in the Harrison case. What was said at that time - forgive me while I find the right page - was this: "in our judgment 'education' demands at least an element of supervision; merely to allow a child to follow its own devices in the hope that it will acquire knowledge by imitation, experiment or experience in its own way and in its own good time is neither systematic nor instructive ... such a course would not be education but, at best, childminding." That was the court's judgment in the case of Harrison and Harrison.

True, and we do supervise - and help, assist and facilitate. But we are not the Encyclopædia Britannica and nor, against the background of the demands of 21st-century society, do we need to pretend to be.

Q39 Mr. Chaytor: The logic of that is that the statement of intended learning does have a requirement to conform to certain general outcomes or to work towards certain general outcomes, doesn't it? It's not simply tailored to the individual child.

That's an interesting question, especially in the light of the 1996 Education Act, which sets out the "Duty of parents of children of compulsory school age [to] cause [them] to receive efficient full-time education suitable - (a) to [their] age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs [they] may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." It doesn't say anything about "certain general outcomes".

Graham Badman: I will answer that. I am independent and I really am truly independent and it is beyond my brief, but as somebody who has spent more than 40 years in education, whether we like it or not, we have a world defined by systems of knowledge.

So we do, to an extent, but those systems are - and should be - far wider than the ones covered in a school curriculum, and they're being stretched by independent thinkers all the time. We don't just need people to be trained to accept instruction and retain key facts: we also need people to be free to specialise and to obsess on their own specific areas of interest. Orthodoxy might try to confine and preserve a body of knowledge, but it didn't - and doesn't - create it.

If you're going to take part in that world, you need to understand how those systems and knowledge developed.

My autonomously home educated son runs his own profitable business. I think that can safely be called 'taking part in the world' and yet he was never instructed by me about the development of knowledge. That's not to say he doesn't know how knowledge developed - just that the learning of this was never something we needed to plan. If we had planned and contrived to study it at a certain time - and this is key - he wouldn't have been half as interested as he was.

It doesn't mean to say you have to be equally interested in everything, but you have to know something

Dear me! Doesn't everyone know something? Why must we endlessly duplicate the same knowledge?

and so I repeat: it will not be me doing this, which I'm sure will be a great relief to all home educators,

- but that's not going to stop you telling us how it should be done:

but I would go for an education system that if it does not define the outcomes, at least defines a curriculum structure that allows that child to make choices.

So we have to impart knowledge, à l'Encyclopædia Britannica, and restrict the child to choices from within that particular chunk of knowledge. Has he thought this through? It's ridiculous. It no longer works in schools, and it won't work in the home either. Children are not complete fools.

I can't get to the end of this today: I have a home ed meeting to prepare for, but I will definitely - thankfully - now be able to finish my notes on this session in my next post.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (9) - Funding, outcomes, sides of A4 again and yet more 'hope'.

Before anything else, there are two very exciting blog posts I want to tell you about. The first is Consequences and conclusions (part two) on the Dark Lord Badman blog and the second is Just Say No - Neil T's response to the recent consultation, copied to the home education forums.

Again today I'm continuing with my notes on the [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf]. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

My previous post ended with Lynda Waltho's question number 35:

Going on from that, I am somewhat calmed by your response, but you're talking a lot about training and its being the last resort. It seems to me that there's going to need to be a lot of resources diverted to training or provided for training. Is that not going to stymie your overall objectives? It could end up basically being a bottomless pit, because if we're going to train them so well that it is a last resort and everything's going to be-I just wonder where it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't want?

Here's the reply from Penny Jones, Independent Schools and School Organisation, DCSF:

We have talked to local authorities, and we've made an estimate of the amount of time. When we looked at the cost of implementing these recommendations, we did explicitly consider the length of time it would take to train officials, how much it was going to cost to develop training packages and the cost of backfilling when people were off going training. We put a cost in, and that's part of the cost we've given in our full response, so it's in there. We think it's fully costed, and we have consulted, so hopefully the resources will be there. They've been earmarked.

There's that 'hope' thing again - like Graham Badman's 'hope' that all the local authority officers will act sensibly and treat us decently. They're planning to change the law and expose us all to a lot more risk than they're claiming to be trying to protect us from - on the single basis of hope. It's not enough.

A short debate about exams and 'outcomes' data then ensued:

Q36 Mr. Chaytor (Lab, Bury North): Minister, if the statistics on numbers of children are so difficult to collate, presumably there are no statistics on learning outcomes. Do we assume we have no information at all on any learning outcomes of the 20,000 to 40,000 children we're talking about?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think they would be incomplete, wouldn't they? Because we don't know how many children we're talking about, finding the outcomes for those children, the data we've got is incomplete. You could look at GCSE results, but obviously, that may not encompass all children who are home-educated.

Q37 Mr. Chaytor: Do GCSE stats or Key Stage 2 standard assessment tests indicate whether the child has been home-educated or not?

Penny Jones: I think the difficulty is that we don't have systematic data for the outcomes of these children. There have been a number of academic studies, both here and quite a lot in America as well, showing that generally, home-educated children attain well, but there is always a question as to how representative the sample is. Unless and until we can get a cross-section of the whole population of home-educated children, we actually can't answer the question "How do the outcomes compare with the population as a whole?" The difficulty we've got with GCSEs and the key stage examinations is that yes, the young people may take these tests, but then when we look at our statistics, those individuals aren't recognised as being home-educated, so we can't just lift up the data and look at it. I don't know if Graham wants to add anything.

Graham Badman: One positive thing. Extending examination centres in the way in which I think the report recommends was always at the top when I asked home educators to give me their shopping list. "What do you want from it?" They wanted the access. That will give us better data in terms of entry to examinations and performance, but I think the needs data is stark and needs further examination. I suspect that there's an untapped mine of information in Jobcentre Plus that also could be sought.

If I can turn the question round, if you're asking me "Do we know enough about the outcomes of a substantial number of young people?", I think quite clearly and unequivocally no. That is not to say they don't have any; we just don't know. To go back to anecdote and case study, I have met some extraordinarily accomplished young people who've done very well and sailed through university and so forth, sometimes developing very late, and others for whom the attainments are absolutely minimal. We don't know enough about that and therefore local authorities did not know when to intervene to provide something additional that could have improved their attainments.

But local authorities could have made an offer, on their website pages about home education. Each and every one of them could, within existing funding and rules, have offered home educators free access to a public exam centre. Why wasn't the fact that they chose not to examined by the review or the Select Committee?

My oldest son has 'minimal attainments' in terms of exam results, but he runs a profitable business now and has never had cause to visit a Job Centre. Nor will he either, unless he's ever struggling to hire staff in the normal way. This perfectly legitimate, successful, likely and probable outcome for elective and autonomous home education has been completely overlooked by both the review and the Select Committee. I wonder why.

Q38 Mr. Chaytor: Could you tell us a little about the proposal for a statement of intended learning? How detailed is that going to be and who is going to draw it up?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I've asked about that and I was told - obviously, this is all very provisional at the moment-that people would be required to produce no more than two sides of A4.

You asked? Who did you ask? Who exactly is making these seemingly arbitrary decisions about us, if not the government minister responsible? Hmm.. reference to sides of A4 sounds very familiar though. I wonder to what extent these have featured as expressions of Graham Badman's dealings with people throughout the course of his career. Is it all measured in sides of A4?

There are certain issues with autonomous learning that need to be addressed.

You're not kidding!

That's why one of the recommendations is looking at putting some further research into autonomous learning and how that could be fitted into providing a statement on a yearly basis.

And is the cart going to be put before the horse, or is this going to happen before any changes are imposed? What kind of 'further research' will it be? We must hope that this is to be of a significantly higher calibre than that produced by the review. There's that hope thing again: a vain hope. A fool's hope, but the only kind we've got.

So there is work to do, including looking at the issue of what is suitable and efficient education. Some further work needs to be addressed to look at that and to flesh it out, but in terms of the statement, my view certainly is it would not be more than a few pages.

Two? A few? It's grown already over the course of the minister's reply! And what about the "opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised" mentioned in recommendation 1 of the report? [opens pdf] We all know that in some local authorities, an 'opportunity' will soon become a requirement and that 'two' or 'a few' sides could easily become a full-blown dissertation, to every word of which we are held during the following year's inspection process. Anyone with the vaguest understanding of the term 'autonomous learning' must realise it's not going to be at all compatible with this - or any other - plan.

Graham Badman spoke about this next. I think I'll save that for my next post.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (8) - The voice of the child. Sought, heard, but not necessarily believed.

Again today I'm continuing with my notes on the [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf]. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

We left it yesterday with this question from Lynda Waltho:

Q34: That is helpful. We have all been talking about the voice of the child throughout today's proceedings. What if the voice of the child is not to meet with the officer? What do we do then?

Graham Badman: That is the one question that I was dreading from this Committee.

Lynda Waltho: Oh, sorry.

Graham Badman: It is a very good question.

Chairman: As you have been dreading it, can it be repeated?

Lynda Waltho: What if the voice of the child is that he or she does not want to meet, or refuses to meet, someone from the authority?

Graham Badman: My view then would be that it is up to the sensitivity of the officer to judge whether or not that is truly what the child wishes or whether it is a view that has been given to them by the parent that they have repeated.

This is so shocking I didn't believe my ears when I heard it, and have just had to read it several times for it to sink in.

It seems that the voice of the child is valid, important and believed only when it's saying what the government wants to hear. Otherwise, not. And local authority officers are not famed for their sensitivity - even Mr Badman knows that.

That is quite difficult to determine.

Why would you even bother trying, unless you subscribed to that oft-spinned, baseless and completely made-up 'theory' that home educating parents are a nefarious bunch of child abusing brainwashers?

That being said, we are making provision that other trusted adults can be engaged, and I repeat that speaking to the child and the requirement to speak to them would have to be used after a whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation had been explored.

This is very vague, isn't it? "A whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation" with regard to what, exactly? If there is a suspicion of abuse, then the normal child protection procedure is enacted. If there is reason to believe the education isn't suitable, information is requested. If this information is not forthcoming or is insufficient to allay the specific concerns, a school attendance order is sought. This can then be defended by the parents in court, as they wish. Why do we need a whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation, let alone to give LAs the power to interview the child alone (which they already have if abuse is suspected, and which should be the only reason for them to).

I go back to my first statement to the Chairman of this Committee. I don't think there is anything in the report that prevents good elective home educators from continuing to do what they have always done.

The only question, then, is which of us is 'good' - and which of us is 'bad'. It seems that this is to be for local authority officers to decide, poor things.

All we are going to do is to offer them greater services and greater protection for a minority - but a significant minority.

We already have enough services. There already is sufficient protection.

I can well understand that there may be children, particularly on the autistic spectrum, who would be completely fazed by that. I have indicated that within the section on special educational needs as well. I understand that point, but judge each case on its merits. What we cannot legislate for is every single occurrence. We have to trust to the good sense of those involved in the support of home educators, whether they be from the local authority or whether they are commissioned from the voluntary sector.

Oh my goodness. He's just throwing us to the lions. Doesn't he know that this trust is exactly what many of us are lacking? My eldest son had his confidence and self esteem destroyed by a school that refused to recognise his severe dyslexia - even after they'd received a 15-page long educational psychologist's diagnosis of it. ("We're not reading this. If you pay an ed psych to find something wrong with your child, they'll find it.") So I deregistered him and spent 6 months painstakingly rebuilding his confidence with him. Then the 'sensitive', 'trustworthy' LA inspector came round, having not bothered to read the report, demanded to see work and to hear Tom reading and scornfully lambasted both - and my son, as 'an idiot'. I said, "Um - you do know he's got dyslexia, quite badly?" and he said: "Oh! Well, I was a bit too pushed for time this morning to open the file. All the same, more work needs doing."

'Voice of the child'? 'Sensitive'? 'Trustworthy'? 'Good sense'? No. We need to retain our protection from some of these people. Some will be well-meaning and intelligent. Others will be uncaring and blasé. Still others will have a determination to enforce compliance with their own world view that borders on sadism. Why should they have unconditional access to our homes and our children?

Chairman: I don't think you should be so defensive about this, Graham.

! Yes, he should.

When we did our inquiry into looked-after children, I don't think we really got under the surface of that whole inquiry until we met children who had been in care, or were in care, on their own and talked to them.

Which is fine, if the children want to talk to someone.

We intend to talk to home-educated children on their own as a group, but I really can't see how we can evade trying to do that, even though we must do it in a sympathetic and sensitive way.

This seems to be a bewildering conflation of the Select Committee's plans to talk to politically active volunteer older children as a group, at their request, about the general situation and the Badman proposals to enable individual local authority officers to enforce private interviews with any home educated children, of any age, willing or unwilling, about their personal educational provision.

Q35 Lynda Waltho: Going on from that, I am somewhat calmed by your response,

Glad someone is.

but you're talking a lot about training and its being the last resort. It seems to me that there's going to need to be a lot of resources diverted to training or provided for training. Is that not going to stymie your overall objectives? It could end up basically being a bottomless pit, because if we're going to train them so well that it is a last resort and everything's going to be - I just wonder where it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't want?

Another good question from Lynda Waltho, the answers to which I will look at in my next post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (7) - Entering the home and interviewing the child

Today I'm continuing from yesterday's post, which was based on [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf]. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

Q33 Lynda Waltho (Lab, Stourbridge): One of the areas on which I and my colleagues have been lobbied by many people is the proposal to interview the child and to enter the home. Many home educators have pointed out that even police officers need a suspicion or a warrant so to do. In your report, you concede that some local authorities are not making effective use of current powers. Will you spell out why local authorities need new powers rather than just a better understanding of what they can do already?

One of my favourite questions.

Graham Badman: Let me quote a local authority, which said, "Given that Local Authorities do not have the power to see the child or enter the house, we have no direct way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children currently being educated at home.

If they entered the home every hour on the hour, every day of the week, they still wouldn't have any direct way of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children currently being educated at home, because ensuring someone's safety and wellbeing - unless you confine them to a plastic bubble (an action which, while it might ensure their safety, would surely damage their wellbeing) - is impossible. Normal life is, and should be, full of thrills and spills as well as the boring bits.

By submitting a report in the post, we cannot guarantee that children ARE receiving the provision identified,

This is the bit where they assume that parents will tell lies unless there's some way of trying to prove otherwise. Charming! (And no wonder most of us choose not to engage with them.)

moreover, we cannot see if the child is meeting the every child matters outcomes.

This is the one, single issue that the review should have sought to address. It's Lord Adonis's "This anomaly is at odds with Every Child Matters reforms, supported by the Children Act 2004, which set out the Government's aim to improve educational outcomes for all children, regardless of where they are educated." The ECM agenda cannot be made to accommodate home educated children and nor should it. Home educating families need to be free to opt out of that system, school-based as it is. It's impossible for us to comply with the five outcomes without breaching our Article 7 right to respect for private and family life, home and communications. Giving us two weeks' notice of a home visit goes nowhere near to solving this problem! Maybe this is what Badman was alluding to when he was talking about parental rights - but that right to privacy encompasses the whole family including the children. There is no clash between parents' and children's rights. The clash is between that specific part of the ECM agenda, and the rest of the law pertaining to home education - as Lord Adonis was perceptive enough to articulate.

There is no way knowing that they are even in the country and we cannot be certain that they are living in the address provided. This has huge implications re: the 'Children Missing from Education' guidance and procedures.

I don't think it does, does it? Does the CME guidance insist that the precise location of every child is officially registered on a constant basis? No. There has to be some trust, if only from a pragmatic point of view.

We feel as a LA that we have a duty of care to the children educated in our area and that we cannot fulfil this duty of care if we have no access to the child or the family."

Yes, and the Badman report [opens pdf] has exacerbated - not ameliorated - this position for them.

That is an accurate view of the response from local authorities, almost universally, in terms of the feedback on the report.

But he did not have to go the way of increasing surveillance. It doesn't actually solve the problems - it actually just creates a whole lot more of them. Instead the review could have been used as an opportunity to investigate the rightful place of HE within the ECM agenda.

Yes, of course, I understand the sensitivities of interviewing the child and the child alone, but I hope that, given what we have said about training, it is, in a sense, the last resort - that proper relationships are established and that it would only be in extremis that a local authority would want to use the powers. We have those powers, but it does not mean that we need to exercise them.

You hope? You hope?? You're proposing to give local authority officers, who could be anyone as far as we know, so much power over us - and you hope they will use it wisely?? ! It seems that hope is all you've left us with too, having proposed that all our other safeguards are stripped away. Thanks.

Crucially, I have also argued in the report that there should be the presence of another trusted adult. The person does not necessarily need to be an unknown officer alone with the child.

But again, you haven't specified this so all we're left with is the hope that our respective LAs will treat our children decently. It's not enough.

I understand those sensitivities and, again, I make the point in the report, in a direct quote from Jane Lowe, from whom I think you are getting evidence. She wrote a very good book full of case studies on the good practice in home education, and said that, if you educate at home, it is still first and foremost a home. Whatever training is given, officers need to respect that, and they need to caveat their approach by asking, "Have I assessed the risk appropriately? Do I need to do this?" I am arguing for a greater flow of information that would enable anyone with a quite proper regard for the safety of children to exercise the power without being draconian.

So we're working on the basis of assumption that our relationships with local authorities are always going to be good. What of the Richard Iballs of this world, who will never recognise truly autonomous learning as a valid method, come what may? What of the paedophiles who look for legitimate opportunities to get power over children and to get them on their own, scared, and separated from their parents? Where, in the Badman report, is our families' defence against these people? Nowhere. We have none. Only the 'hope' that they will act with 'the proper regard'. It's not enough.

Q34 Lynda Waltho: That is helpful. We have all been talking about the voice of the child throughout today's proceedings. What if the voice of the child is not to meet with the officer? What do we do then?

This is the best question of all. I'll look at the answers to it - such as they were - in my next post.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (6) - 'registration' (licensing)

Continuing with [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf]: (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

Andrew Pelling (Independent, Croydon) then asked:

Q29: Could the flexibility go so far as to drop the idea of registration and just have the approach that there should be an obligation to receive advice? Could you go that far in terms of flexibility?

An obligation to receive advice? I appreciate the well-meaning attempt at conciliation, but it's a nonsense. The only advice worth having or giving is that which is freely sought. Ditto: 'support' - and 'education', come to think of it. Anything else is just manipulative and will probably be met with resistance.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Minister for schools): I would say on that point that the reason why local authorities need to have numbers on how many children are being home educated in their local authority area is so that they can plan services and make resources available. That would be very difficult if you did not actually know how many children were being home educated. That is part of the problem that local authorities are describing to us at the moment - they do not actually know.

This can't be the true reason, because if it was they'd be happy to just advertise their services, count the numbers of people responding and plan accordingly. Not all home educators will want or need LA services and/or resources, so counting the total numbers of home educators in the area won't give them the information they need to plan delivery.

Q30 Mr. Pelling: But there is a sanction, is there not, in terms of the local authority having gone through its registration process?

I don't really understand this question.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Are you asking if there will be a sanction?

Seems I'm not the only one.

Mr. Pelling: Yes.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Again, this is the consultation period, so I cannot say what will come out at the end of the consultation. Certainly, a lot of people have been writing in about the registration requirements, but it closes on 19 October and then the Government will have to look at it.

Oh, they're going to take into account our 5,200-strong opinion? Good news indeed.

Q31 Mr. Pelling: So, in terms of the open-minded approach that is being taken to the consultation, it will still be a possibility not to have registration with sanctioning.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I don't want to pre-judge things. Clearly, in having a registration process, you would think that if you didn't register, that would have to be thought through. It seems to me silly not to be registering everyone.

"That would have to be thought through"? Ever so slightly ambiguous.

Graham Badman: I don't want to fall foul of the trap of forgetting that hard cases make bad law. It is nevertheless the case that registration is a relatively simple process. You are talking about it happening only annually. It is not a great intrusion into families that are conducting a normal process of elective home education. But there are hard cases. There are some tragedies in our country that we need to try to prevent as far as we can. Let me cite something said by Daniel Monk, an expert in the legalities of home education, in the Child and Family Law Quarterly of 2009: "Parents who home educate are not simply performing a private duty, but also a public function. For all these reasons the case for compulsory registration is logical, legitimate and compelling."

It's not registration - it's a process of licensing, because permission to register can be refused. Working for weeks with the local authority to agree next year's plan of education and being questioned on one's compliance with last year's plan - these are not relatively simple processes. I mean, relative to what? I think I'm beginning to understand Mr Pelling's question a bit better now.

Q32 Mr. Pelling: Is it not the philosophy of this approach that it is important for the state to intervene in the life of the family to ensure that the rights of the child are protected? Is that not the backbone behind this approach?

Yes! Giving the lie to Badman's "It is not a great intrusion into families that are conducting a normal process of elective home education."

Graham Badman: I interpret it in a slightly different way.

Quelle surprise.

The UN convention represents the wishes of this country for all the children in it. All I am saying is that there need to be some changes to guarantee absolutely that the rights of children to an education and freedom of speech, so that they are able to give a view about their lot in life, are met. I agree with you, but I argue the case from the point of view of the rights of the child.

Same argument. Same motivation. Greater chance of success. Please ask all school children whether they would prefer to be home educated, and act on their replies. (Enabling their parents to draw down the AWPU would help from a practical point of view.) Only then will the rights of children to an education and freedom of speech, so that they are able to give a view about their lot in life be absolutely guaranteed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (5) - SEN, AWPU, govt co-option of charities and the concept of 'support'

Hmm. I really want to be blogging about a transcript from yesterday's round table meeting with 20 home educators and the Select Committee, but as we don't have one of those (and aren't ever likely to get one, sob! [UPDATE: I've just found a write-up of the meeting here. Thanks so much, Imran]) I'll get back to last Monday's far more boring one instead. But first, about yesterday's consultation. Over 5000 responses in the end! That's fantastic. We pulled all the stops out for the last one and only managed about 2000, if I remember correctly. Mr Badman is certainly good at winding people up, as Carlotta says most eloquently.

OK. More from [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf], then. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

Annette Brooke went on to say:

One of the difficulties in making sweeping statements is that the generic term of "elective home education" covers such a wide range. As you mentioned, I am sure that there are so many cases that we should celebrate, and I would quite like to have seen some case studies of good practice, which I think would have balanced your report out a little, Graham. I take it for granted that there is all that out there.

I have certainly met a number of parents who have removed their children from school, possibly because their child is on the autism spectrum-probably a very frequent reason-and the school is not providing, or is not able to provide either protection in terms of anti-bullying or a suitable education. I think those parents must feel very threatened that they are now effectively going to be inspected on what they are doing, which may be working on confidence and self-esteem, against some unknown criteria of what a good education is. Can you comment on that particular portion of home educators?

This is an excellent question and one I've got some experience of, having deregistered Tom aged 9 and with severe dyslexia and his confidence in his own abilities on the floor. Then having a 'compulsory' home visit from the LA, after 6 months' worth of hard work trying to reinstall his faith in himself, in which the officer in question demanded he read out loud and have a sample of his writing checked and harshly criticised! Needless to say, he hadn't even opened our file before visiting and had no idea what had happened in school.

Badman replied:

Let me pick up on autism first of all. My words were sincere when I described the emotion with which some people tell me their stories, so I accept that for many young people, home education was the last resort. If these recommendations go through, the money, in terms of the age-weighted pupil units, then flows to the local authority, either because that child has been in receipt of School Action Plus, because they are in receipt of significant services, or because they are statemented. The opportunity will now exist for the local authority to commission other services to support those families.

- an opportunity that's always been there, surely?

As I make very clear in my report, within special educational needs-I have cited at length the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice's evidence, which I think is strongly supportively of home educators' views-when it comes to commissioning support for autism, it may not be the local authority that does so. I am persuaded that some in the voluntary sector, such as Autism In Mind, may offer better support and help than local authorities. Under my proposals, they would be able to do that, and could be commissioned to provide those services, with money now going for the first time to local authorities to provide the services.

What's this third sector providers nonsense all about? As I understand it, AIM is a hard-working collection of volunteer parents who do a brilliant job at supporting one another - because they want to - but would have neither the time nor the inclination to turn themselves into a professional organisation. Nice idea, on the part of government, to try co-opt the charities/support groups with the use of some well-placed complements and hinted offers of bribes, but I can't see any of them (with the possible exception of EO) going for it. Personally I wouldn't touch that kind of a 'partnership' with a barge pole. Oh look, but here's someone who will. Kerching!

To repeat a word that I have used, I think it is perverse that for many young people, for whom there are quite legitimate concerns related to welfare and education, as soon as they opt out of school, they are cut off from what they would have had in terms of value.

No, what's perverse is that you will all run around the houses trying to think up ways of avoiding just paying the AWPU straight to the parents, where it can actually be spent on the child's education - strange thought though that would be.

To go back to your first comment, Chairman, about the positive sides of this, there are recommendations in the report about access to examinations-if people have not previously had it-to flexible schooling and to better vacation provision, all of which, I think, from what I have seen of the Government's response, have been accepted. Chairman, I think you are right: there is an awful lot that has been said about safeguarding. Most of this report is about ensuring that the rights of children are met within the context of home education-not outside of it-by the better provision of services and the better engagement of home educators in the training of local authority officers and in determining what the services are.

Or you could just leave us alone, where most of us where doing perfectly fine thank you. Or even offer some services to people who want them, on a voluntary basis, if you must be seen to be doing something.

Q27 Chairman: I speak as Chairman of this Committee. Recently we have been inquiring into looked-after children and the training of social workers. The fact of the matter is that in this country, for some reason, anyone engaged, as a family, with social services seems to have a stigma about it-they feel it is a negative thing. Are we not taking the same approach here? What we need to get from the Government and from anyone involved with a local authority is a positive relationship that supports home education, if that is what a parent chooses-a positive framework. There should not be a feeling that there is inspection, and that people will come to see if you are going to do something naughty, but a feeling that if you are trying to do something good, they should help you to do it. Is that not the frame that we want?

That would indeed be a better outcome than the one suggested by Badman. But to bring it about we'd have to forget about home visits, except by invitation from the family only and compulsory registration. Local authorities instead could advertise their services through recognised groups and known home educators, who could then pass the information on to everyone else. It would make sense for such services to be advertised on local authorities' websites, for families to avail themselves thereof as they wish, with no strings attached. What's wrong with this idea? Seems perfect to me.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (DCSF Minister for schools): That is certainly the view that the Government have taken on this. It is about creating a much more positive relationship between home educators and local authority officers. You will see examples in the report of good practice, which is already happening, but of course not across the whole of England; we need to spread it.

Oh good. Hmm. Why am I not convinced..?

Q28 Annette Brooke: I welcome the recommendations of support, but I am still concerned that a parent who really understands their particular child's needs and has an alternative approach that will ultimately build up confidence and communication will never fit into the round hole of what formal schooling would advocate. I am concerned - perhaps you can reassure me - that there is not enough flexibility to allow for that approach.

Another very good question.

Graham Badman: There is certainly nothing in this report to suggest that there should not be that flexibility...

Oh, but there is! Where shall we start? With the redefining of 'suitable' and 'efficient'? With the compulsory home visits from LA officers who, no matter what they've had in terms of training, will still be human, have prejudices, come from schooly backgrounds, have their own agenda (whatever that may be) and generally still mess up? With the recommendation to refuse us registration if our annual plans aren't up to scratch, or if we're found to have not fulfilled the previous year's plan? The concept of 'flexibility' has packed its bags and left the building thanks to you, Mr Badman.

We have had a quite deliberate distinction between the way that youngsters with special educational needs and others who are electively home educated are treated.

We have? Where?

I take the view that some people have absolutely prospered through being home educated.

This isn't his view to take: it's a plain fact, though it would be even truer if the word 'most' was substituted.

Sometimes they are not home educated for the entirety of a normal school career; sometimes they do so to recoup, if you wish, and then they re-enter school, perhaps on a part-time basis. I do not think there is any suggestion that the rights of parents who are dealing with young children, sometimes with quite specific needs, will in any way be negated.

Yes they will, because where we currently have the right to be immediately responsive to our children's educational needs, this will no longer be the case under the Badman recommendations. We'll have to stick to a plan instead, whether it turns out to be right for the child or not. We will have to impose the element of compulsion on our children.

On the contrary, what we are trying to say is that it is important that the state knows what is happening to them.

The state might want to know, for its own purposes, but this should not take priority over each individual child's needs and its parent's duty to respond to those needs.

Equally, the state has responsibilities to ensure that support is given to them.

Only if such support is wanted or asked for! The take-up of support has to be a voluntary affair, otherwise it can't correctly be called support at all and must be called coercion.

I'll leave this there for today and get on with attending to my children etc.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Transcript of Barry Sheerman on Ed Balls: Today

Taken from here:

Barry Sheerman: "Maggie Atkinson is a very competent woman, but we just didn't think she had the independence of mind to stand up to a Secretary of State who loves to get his own way. I mean, you know, most of us know that Ed Balls is a bit of a bully and he likes his own way and we've seen a track record of, you know, we saw the problems over Ken Boston QCA, we saw Sir Bruce Liddington the schools commissioner who was very independent: he's gone, the schools commission has been abolished. Time after time, we see the Secretary of State wanting to have people that will do his bidding."

James Naughtie (Presenter): Well that's a pretty strong way of describing the Secretary of State. I mean, you think he's a bully who wants to get his own way all the time?

Barry Sheerman: I think he's a bit of a bully who likes to get his own way.

James Naughtie: Come on. He's either a bully or he isn't. You say he's a bully.

Barry Sheerman: Well yes, if you push me, yes. He's more of an executive man rather than a parliamentary man. And I think it's a bad day for parliamentary democracy when, if we're having these pre-appointment hearings, the very first committee to say that it didn't agree with the appointment, to get it over-ridden. I think that's a bad day for parliamentary democracy.

James Naughtie: Well, you say you have competence in this matter. Of course you don't, technically, do you? I mean there's no - you know, we're in a parliamentary system, not an American-style system, the committee doesn't put forward appointees. All you're asked for is your opinion. So it's competence, but only up to a point.

Barry Sheerman: Of course, and we're - it's early days and, you know, all eight of us - there were eight of us that hearing - all agreed. We didn't have a vote, we agreed..

James Naughtie: Cross-party.

Barry Sheerman: Cross-party, all three parties.. er, that we thought someone who was keener on the campaigning role, someone who would be feistier in standing up to the Secretary of State.. I mean, he does have form in this area. You know, Ofsted is at its weakest that I've known it under six Secretaries of State.

James Naughtie: And that's partly, or perhaps wholly, in your view, because of the Secretary of State and his way of doing things?

Barry Sheerman: I think he does not like strong, independent-minded people who stand up to him and that's why Sir Bruce Liddington went and why we had all the trouble with Ken Boston, the QCA last year..

James Naughtie: So there’s a pattern?

Barry Sheerman: There is a pattern and we as a Select Committee see that pattern. I've been chair of the Committee for six Secretaries of State and I know how each of them have behaved in that time.

James Naughtie: So, I mean, this issue is not simply about Maggie Atkinson, it's about the Secretary of State?

Barry Sheerman: It's about choosing people who have got the feistiness and the independence to actually take on the Secretary of State and say: "We have the weakest Children's Commissioner in the UK. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have more powers and more strength. It's the weakest in Europe."

James Naughtie: What can you do about it? I mean, Mr Balls is going to go ahead. No doubt you would say that's an indication of the way he does things, so he's going to do it. What do you then do?

Barry Sheerman: He's going to do it. He's in front of my committee - our committee - on Wednesday..

James Naughtie: Well, that'll be fun!

Barry Sheerman: It'll be fun, but we'll tell.. Look. Our job is to keep track of this Secretary of State. We try to do it robustly and we try to do it well.

James Naughtie: You know what people who are listening to you who may not agree with you will say? They'll say: "Ah, here's old Sheerman. He's going for the Chairmanship of the LP. Good bit of campaigning."

Barry Sheerman: Well, first of all I haven't decided to do that.

James Naughtie: But you might?

Barry Sheerman: Yes, but this is nothing to do with it. Everyone knows that I have been chair of this committee for nearly ten years. I take it very seriously. My job is to scrutinise this department and to scrutinise it robustly is my duty to Parliament.

James Naughtie: But you'd rather you weren't dealing with a bully?

Barry Sheerman: Well - someone who always wants his own way. Let's be politer about it. But the fact is: even this commissioner, set up by Ed Balls, actually report to Ed Balls as Secretary of State not to Parliament through my committee.

James Naughtie: Barry Sheerman, thank you.

My consult response - on deadline day, as usual!

Here it is. Oh, but first, check this out - a 1929 Conservative election poster. They weren't kidding, were they?! And this: "What it feels like: to be homeschooled" - oh, and the fact that there are nearly 4000 responses in to the consultation already. That's quite some vociferous minority, Mr Badman. I gather from someone who knows that most public consultations yield less than 50 responses. Are we going to be ignored again this time?

Right, down to it. (I haven't read anyone else's response by the way, so I don't know whether mine is typical, but I suspect it will be.)

1. Question 1. Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?

Absolutely not. Providing one's children with a suitable education is a duty under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act anyway, not a right. And there's no reason why the rights - or duties - of parents should clash with those of their children, the nature of families being that they're both on the same side, so they both amount to the same thing and there is therefore no balance to be struck. Home education is not a right under British law that can be allowed or not by Government - it's a parental duty, unless the parents opt to delegate this to a school. Even then, the onus is on them to ensure the provision is suitable, not on Government. In the light of this, these proposals strike quite the wrong balance, giving far more powers to local authorities than either the law allows or than is necessary.

Question 2. Do you agree that a register should be kept?

Not at all. I might not mind it so much if it meant just that, but the Badman report conflates the meaning of 'register' with the word 'licence', so I think it's a terrible idea. The education of their children is a natural function of parents and if we follow the trajectory suggested in this report, all parents will soon have to ask for permission on an annual basis to continue looking after their children, as this blog post hypothesises. The oft-repeated simplistic argument from Government that "We need to know who these people are," doesn't ring true on its own and the Badman report belies it also. The truth is that you want to know who we are so that you can claim the power to withhold permission for us to do what we do. This is nothing but another power grab on the part of government, inflicted on families.

Question 3. Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?

No. If you only wanted to know who we were, without the intention of grabbing more power over us, you'd only need our names and addresses wouldn't you?

Question 4. Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?

No! It's your register - you keep it up to date!

Question 5. Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?

No. What are you going to do, send parents to prison as per the Truancy Act? That's not very helpful to their children, is it?

Question 6a. Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?

No of course not. A parent's decision to deregister should be taken seriously, not as something that they could and should be persuaded against, given enough time. According to Ahed's Anomaly figures, more than 360,000 children are injured in schools each year and at least 16 children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying. Sometimes children need removing from school straight away, for that and many other reasons. It's obvious that this should be entirely at the parent's discretion.

Question 6b. Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?

No. Once a local authority has stopped being the education provider - i.e. on deregistration - achievement and future attainment data is no longer its business. What on earth is 'future attainment data' anyway? I didn't realise crystal ball reading featured on the National Curriculum nowadays.

Question 7. Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?

Do I agree that Government should 'take powers'?! Well, at least you're honest enough to call it what it is! NO, of course I don't agree with this. Government has more than enough powers already - far more than is good for it and the British people. The 2007 EHE Guidance sets out very well the only powers necessary, in keeping with the current legal position, which already allows for concerns to be properly acted upon. There is absolutely no reason for any change, and such change will be damaging to families and to home educating children - both their wellbeing and their education. Children learn best when they're allowed to be curious, not led by the nose and put under pressure to comply with someone else's expectations. The Badman report does not understand this or take it into account. Its recommendations will render the 'autonomous' learning method almost impossible to practice in most circumstances, even though it calls for more research into this method. If the report's recommendations are enacted, the method will cease to exist and there will be nothing left to research.

Question 8. Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?

No. If the concerns are so substantial that the parents are seriously not deemed safe to be with the children, then this situation still applies to evenings, weekends and school holidays. School should be a place of learning, not a substitute child welfare centre.

Question 9. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?

No. Why would they want to? Many home educated children are rarely at home anyway: they're usually out and about enjoying group activities and learning opportunities elsewhere. Also, we know from our collective experience that LA officers are often prejudiced about things like the addresses and appearances of home educators' houses. A lack of books on show doesn't necessarily mean that a child doesn't read, for example. And home visits are very stressful for the whole family: there is a feeling of being invaded and of one's whole life being unduly judged on the basis of one relatively short visit. The giving of two weeks' notice doesn't ameliorate this. The current freedom for parents to choose how to supply information to satisfy local authorities' concerns, as set out in the 2007 EHE Guidance should be retained.

Question 10. Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?

No. This is to conflate education with welfare, to disastrous effect. The current checks and measures regarding interviewing children alone, observed by the Police and Social Services, should be applied across the board. I can't see any reason why this would ever need to happen just because of home education, because if there were concerns about an individual child that were sufficiently serious to mandate it, then Police and/or Social Services would already be involved and be driving procedure. The only other motivation for proposing such a measure would be to attempt to find out whether parents were lying about the child's educational provision and this would be to overturn the presumption of innocence, as well as having a negative effect on the essential parent/child relationship of trust. This whole idea smacks of government wanting to insert a crowbar into healthy family life to jemmy it apart. It's barbaric and it goes against all our natural protective parental instincts.

Question 11. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the local authority thought that was necessary.

No, no and no. See above re: the problems with visits and also to have so many, so soon after deregistration completely negates the possibility of any kind of a deschooling phase, which is necessary to the restoration of curiosity and the will to learn in traumatised, over-schooled children. I'm speaking from bitter experience here: my three older children (now 17, 19 and 20 and in no danger of ever becoming NEET, for your information!) all needed at least a year of absolutely no educational pressure to regain their interest in learning after deregistration 11 years ago. This is often a very important, key process of home education and I'm surprised you are as unaware of it as you seem, unless your true intent really is to destroy it as a realistic, workable alternative to school provision.


I think that's it. Hmm. I lost patience with the long answers around questions 4 and 5, maybe - not that any of my answers were very long. There's only so many times you can keep saying the same thing, isn't there? And.. I might have let some sarcasm creep into my answer on 6b! Just couldn't resist that - I used to answer these things very earnestly, but nowadays I like to just say what I think and not pull my punches. I was downright weary of the questions, though, by the time I got to the last one, which made me glad I hadn't read them in advance or brooded over them for longer than five minutes. Talk about consultation fatigue! I can almost sympathise with the Irish on their EU referenda.

Anyway, this response of mine is neither literary nor political genius, but I think that the effort I've put in adequately reflects the length of time they'll spend reading it. It will be interesting to see how the responses are aggregated this time, because I think the reasons for our unanimous NO will vary somewhat more than they have on previous occasions.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (4) - statistical spaghetti and the appeals culture

Step up Mr Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness. Here is the part, in the [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf] in which he nailed Graham Badman well and truly to the flagpole on child abuse statistics:

[Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.]

Q10 Mr. Stuart: You have slightly lost me there. Having gone to all the local authorities, I thought that what you were basing the doubled risk assessment on was the very hard measure of child protection plans. In other words, it wasn't anything to do with the expression that has previously been used about contact with social services. This is now very much at the hardest end-although it happened to align with your original position.

Graham Badman: Absolutely.

Q11 Mr. Stuart: Just now, you said something about other issues.

Graham Badman: What I was saying is that they were among the data set that was given to the Chairman of the Committee as well as being published. We went out to local authorities and asked other questions as well. Just to be clear, the data sample was from 74 authorities. The percentage of the population of elective home educators from those 74 authorities who are on child protection plans is 0.4%. From the same group of all children, it is 0.2%. So, it is double. It is double proportionally and not double in terms of the actual number.

Q12 Mr. Stuart: Sure. As you mentioned in those figures, it is also very important not to give the impression that there is a very high number of children in child protection plans among the home-educated community. Obviously, it did feel as if the initial publicity suggested that home educators should be viewed with suspicion.

Graham Badman: I am not arguing that at all. I am saying that proportionally there is a higher percentage. I do not regard any home educators in that way with suspicion. Indeed I met a number of home educators whose children were so accomplished I thought that they should be justly proud of them. All I am saying is that you cannot say-certainly from the view of those whom I met-that all children are safe, particularly as there is no security about the number of children who are known to us. The best estimates that have been put forward are around 20,000 or so. Most local authorities believe that it is at least double that in terms of those who are unknown and not registered. Certainly members of my reference group put that figure much higher again. All I am saying is, no, you should not treat home education in that way. You should not view it with suspicion, but you should know that the risk factor is proportionally double.

Q13 Mr. Stuart: In any case in which a child is known to be on a child protection plan, will it, by necessity, mean that that child is known to the local authorities?

Graham Badman: Yes.

Q14 Mr. Stuart: So, if the numbers that were formally known about were approximately double your best estimate, it would take us back to almost precisely where we started, at the average of the population as a whole.

Graham Badman: I'm sorry, I don't understand the question.

Q15 Mr. Stuart: Well, if there are twice as many children in home education than are formally known about, which by definition includes all those for whom there is a child protection plan, it would suggest that, roughly speaking, you were back to 0.2% of the home-educated population having a child protection plan, which would put them in line with the national average.

Graham Badman: I think that it propels the figures the other way. It would actually make the proportion higher, because they are already included in the overall population and in the subset of the population, which would mean that the percentage will be fractionally higher. It works the other way.

Q16 Mr. Stuart: I am probably being rather slow here. Take me through that again. I am obviously not understanding this.

Graham Badman: Well, if 0.2% is all population and that includes elective home educators, then that figure actually depresses the overall figure. If you have them separated out, it would make it proportionally worse. If you take out home educators from the first figure, it makes that figure 0.2% lower.

Q17 Mr. Stuart: Ignoring that, because the number of children who are home educated is statistically insignificant in the overall population, so the 0.2 per cent. can be left roughly where it is, the point is how many home-educated children have child protection plans? If those who are formally known about are only half of the number of children who are estimated by you, the leading expert on the subject, to be home educated-local authorities likewise think that they know about only half-that suggests that, roughly speaking, they are about the national average.

Graham Badman: Forgive me. It is me who is being obtuse. I understand your point absolutely now, but who is to say that they are safe? If you don't know anything about them, a high proportion of those who are unknown may be unsafe.

Q18 Mr. Stuart: Absolutely right, and people rightly worry about safety, but first one must deal with data as they are. From what you said, the data seem to be that there are no more children with child protection plans among home-educated children, if it is in fact twice as many as those that are formally known about, than in the wider population. To put in context the previous Minister's remarks about the risks, which caused a lot of offence among the home education community, unless there were very good data to back them up, they were wrongly stigmatised as having a higher incidence of child abuse, or the threat of it within their families. I am putting to you a fairly important point, not least to them, that perhaps on your own numbers a home-educated child is no more likely to be abused than anyone else in the population.

Graham Badman: You are asking me to determine a causal effect that I cannot. All I can say to you is to repeat the evidence that I have, which is that on the basis of the information provided by 74 authorities, twice the percentage of young people have child protection plans among the elective home-educated population than in the general population. What you would consider in terms of an assessment of risk about a family before you decide that you are going to bar them on safeguarding grounds, is a range of other reasons and data drawn from a strategy group, if you had gone to a section 47 inquiry, or whatever you had gained in terms of intelligence from your officers visiting. If you want me to clarify the statistical interpretation of those, I will gladly write to you afterwards.

This inquiry is proving to be nothing if not a home educating vote-winner for the Conservative Party.

Ms Diana Johnson (Minister for Schools) after more of this, a break for the members to vote and an interjection from the chairman, said:

..what the Government are interested in, in this review, is making sure that children and young people who are home educated are getting a good education at home. That is what we want to make sure. We want to know who those children and young people are, and we want to be able to say, "Yes, we are satisfied they are getting the standard of education that they need".

But - how dare they, when Treasury statistics show more than 1 in 6 children leaves school each year unable to read, write or add up?

But a lot of the recommendations that Graham has brought forward are very much about creating a positive relationship between local authorities and home educators to support home education.

They keep talking about this 'improved' relationship between HErs and LAs. It's an absolute joke to suggest that giving LAs all the power is going to improve anything at all.

And ditto, about this:

Ms Diana R. Johnson: The worrying thing for me as a Minister is that we do not have full data sets; we do not know about who is educating their children at home. The figures that we are looking at-perhaps 20,000 or 25,000-are estimates. There was work done by York Consulting a few years ago, trying to give figures, and even that body found it difficult. So, I think it would be very helpful to know who is home educating and what numbers we are actually talking about, and then as a Government we can feel confident that we know who these children are and be satisfied that they are getting a good education.

Annette Brooke is the Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset & North Poole, who had this to say about registration:

I want to probe on registration and I will perhaps put my cards on the table: I am actually in favour of a simple registration scheme because I don't want children disappearing below the radar. I think that point is important. However, I wonder if we could just look a bit at the applications for registration. Surely it is going to be fairly clear-cut that a local authority will have a right to refuse registration on the grounds of child protection, and presumably there will be a right of appeal because that would be a British justice situation. Can I ask you about the appeals process that might have been thought of?

And Ms Johnson replied:

I think you are absolutely right in that any process that is set up needs to be fair. We all know that having a right to appeal would be part of the fairness of any procedure. These matters are out for consultation, which does not end until 19 October. Therefore, I am not at this stage able to give you any definitive view about how an appeals procedure would work. All I can say is that being fair would obviously be a key part of any procedure created.

But I've had experience of the effect on a system of the introduction of appeals: the DWP, or DSS as it was then. Here's how it suddenly started working: you asked for something to which you were probably entitled (but the sheer and increasing complexity of the various rules and regulations meant that nobody could be quite sure whether you were) and the automatic answer was 'no'. You were then tacitly expected to appeal this decision, upon which the revised answer would usually be 'yes'. This struck me as being so bizarre that for many years I refused to believe it could actually work this way, despite the evidence of my eyes and ears and I never actually launched any appeals myself. Then one day I was reading Hansard ( you do..) and I was amazed to see that this incredible principle was actually enshrined in the department's working practice! The Parliamentary debate was to do with the rescinding of a rule about confiscating a percentage of the living allowance of single mothers who refused to divulge the names of their children's fathers. The minister in question said something to the effect of: "We confiscate the money and then wait for the mothers to appeal. If they don't appeal, we assume they're receiving money from elsewhere (presumably the absent fathers) and therefore don't need to get it from us. If they do appeal, they're probably innocent and will have had their payments restated." ! No suggestion that they might have, like myself, reluctantly and with great financial difficulty, accepted the judgement made against them as being final unless there was fresh evidence to bring to an appeal.

Home educators need to be aware of the phenomena of the appeals culture. If we are forced to request permission to home educate on an annual basis and there is an appeals process in place, will the answer automatically be 'no', pending the 'inevitable' and expected appeal by parents? If parents don't appeal, will this be assumed by everyone in power up to ministerial level to be an admittance of their unsuitability, or supposed inability or whatever, to educate their children? Probably, if the DWP is anything to go by. This is how it works.

Notes on the transcripts (3) - Child abuse and FOI requests

First, I want to tell you that there's another post on the Dark Lord Badman blog, about the ghost of education past and the ghost of education present, both depicted in a startlingly realistic way! I'm really looking forward to meeting the ghost of education future in the next episode. So we've seen Badman as Fagin [opens YouTube] and now Badman as Scrooge. I hope he can manage to rise above his personal feeling of being offended and analyse the reasons why he's the subject of this kind of satire. It's not just comforting for us when we're under attack to pillory by way of defence - it's also an excellent medium for the message we need to convey: We think you'd better think it out again.

Now back to the [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf]. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

After Mr Badman's initial introduction and explanations, there is a question from Paul Holmes (Lib Dem, Chesterfield) about the statistics regarding the numbers of home educated children 'known to social care', including the following:

Just to help further with the process of clarifying that and setting people's minds at rest, one of the concerns was paragraph 8.12 of your report, where you said that "the number of children known to children's social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population." What home educators feel is that we need some clarification about this. Who is classified as being known to social care? Lots of children in home education-certainly lots of children I have met over the years-have left the mainstream system because they have special educational needs, and therefore would be known to the education and social care system, but not because of any danger to them. They're known to the system because they have a problem, and that problem has led to them being bullied at school or not being dealt with properly, and so they've been taken out of the system. So, how do you define "known to social care"? Who comes under that category?

- to which Mr Badman took some considerable time to say that he knew of 41 cases of home educated children who were the subjects of Child Protection Plans.

Personally I think this talk of statistics is something of a smoke screen, or, as Blogdial asserts of sections of Wednesday's hearing, a straw man. The Badman/DCSF case seems to hang on the validity (or otherwise) of the statement that home educated children are in need of extra safeguarding measures. To 'prove' this point, they evidently feel the need to demonstrate that home educated children are more at risk of abuse than others, so they've taken data from a very small number of Local Authorities and are trying to extrapolate that to apply to the wider community.

But not only is he on shaky ground statistically, the raw data is messy: there are a lot of other prevailing factors that we don't get to hear about. It wouldn't be hard, in most cases, for many caring and loving home educating families to fall foul of the NICE guidelines on When to Suspect Child Maltreatment, for example. Some of us tend to want to do 'dangerous' things like take our children's opinions into account on issues like bedtimes, dentistry, needing hugs and talking to strangers. In the present climate of insanity centred around 'child protection' it's not at all surprising that an increasing number of us might be the subjects of 'child protection plans', but this doesn't make us child abusers - far from it. I think there's a poweful agenda of enforcing compliance currently permeating the UK Children's Services sector. You only have to read Ed Balls' recent lecture to The Fabian Society to get a sense of it. It's a much bigger picture than anything to do with home education or the real abuse of children by their parents.

I'm not saying that there is no real child abuse in any home educating families - that would be a stupid thing to say. But there are already systems for identifying and dealing with child abuse: there doesn't need to be any special ones set up for children who don't go to school. School should be a place of learning, not a substitute child welfare centre!

This is interesting though. Graham Badman again:

Clearly, what my report does is to draw attention to those five key morbidities that we know are so important in terms of child protection-drugs, alcohol, substance abuse, domestic violence and learning difficulties-as possible precursors to need in regard to the child's education, not of a one-to-one relationship. We are just saying there is a risk. All my report tries to say is that local authorities must be diligent in pursuing that risk and determining whether or not it is a risk that needs action or a risk that can be managed. And so, although there will be, if this report goes through, the power of local authorities to refuse registration, they do not necessarily have to do so.

I wonder if he understands - or really cares (unlikely) - that this is exactly what we're upset about, because to date it's been parents who have evaluated the risks for their children, not government officials. For the nanny state to remove this decision-making power before there have even been any problems is [yet another] step too far.

Paul Holmes then asks another good question:

Your initial findings, and then the later September wave of requests that you made, showed huge disparities between different local authorities on what these percentages were. How would you explain that?

To which Graham Badman replies:

Graham Badman: Without going back to those local authorities, that is difficult. Not all children's social services departments work in the same way, as we have discovered. I suspect that there will be a variation in terms of the elective home education population because they are not spread universally across the country. There are concentrations of home educators. Equally, I would imagine there are some issues around deprivation that would be important. There are also issues around the quality of schooling in that if you can create a schooling system which satisfies everybody, the movement to elective home education would be probably be less. It is a question worthy of further asking.

- essentially admitting that his figures have very little real meaning.

He continues by saying:

The aggregate figure is correct and I stand by it. It is slightly in excess of double the proportion.

Home educators, of course, disagree. (Not that either position should really matter.)

But yes, if one of my recommendations is carried out, namely that local authorities reflect on why children have left, they also might want to reflect on what they don't know about them and whether they are assessing that risk adequately.

This makes three fallacious assumptions:

  1. that it's any of the local authority's business why a parent might deregister their child;
  2. that local authorities should gather information about innocent families; and
  3. that deregistration from school should a time for local authorities to be assessing any 'risks'. Khyra Ishaq was one case, the full details of which have not yet emerged. As Mr Badman says himself about five minutes after this: "I don't want to fall foul of the trap of forgetting that hard cases make bad law."

Regardless, he goes on to say:

I said in my report that I had considered serious case reviews. The identification of serious case reviews was quite difficult because it is not axiomatic that serious case reviews name the place of education. It is not always known. There were, in fact, only four where elective home education was a feature. I will not go into the detail because some of it is confidential. Two of them were stark in their concerns for those young people. All of them made recommendations to make changes in regulation to provide greater powers of scrutiny. Some of the evidence, and certainly that offered by local authorities, was that they were hampered in their task. So it may well be that the disparity in local authority figures was because some local authorities don't know what they don't know.

Mr Holmes then goes on to pose a question about false reporting, which Mr Badman refutes, then Mr Holmes asks about the speed and the timing of the whole process, with particular regard to Freedom of Information requests. A fascinating little exchange then takes place about this:

Paul Holmes: Finally, one of the concerns of home educators is the speed at which all this has happened. They put in freedom of information requests so that they could look at your original data and then they have not had time to do that for the September data. Will all this data be put on the website so that home educators can go through it and come up with counter-arguments? Perhaps the Minister can answer that.

Chairman: Minister?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: Freedom of information requests are being dealt with. I think that more than 150-

Penny Jones: Yes, 150.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: More than 150 freedom of information requests have come into the Department. That is clearly a lot of work. With that volume of requests things have not happened as quickly as they need to. We are well aware of the need to get on and sort out the freedom of information requests. There has been a huge number.

Paul Holmes: Can you not just put all the responses up on the website so that people can read it directly anyway?

Ms Diana R. Johnson: As I recall, these FOI requests are all slightly different. There is no common thread.

Penny Jones: FOI requests cover quite a broad range. We have put up an analysis of the second report. That was up with a letter from Graham, so that is all up on the website for everybody to see. We go into quite lot of detail, giving graphs of the spread of findings and that sort of thing. The general line that we have taken is that we do not release the information that individual authorities have sent to us because the numbers tend to be small, and there is always the danger that an individual child can be identified, and then, of course, there are exemptions that apply for the protection of those children who are vulnerable.

- which completely and spectacularly fails to cover DCSF's flat refusal to comply with home educators' FOI requests for specific - some would say spurious - reasons.

This post is too long already. More later.